About the Author: My love for the mountains began with family vacations in the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky. I am now fortunate enough to live very near the Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest. My goal is to hike 2-3 times a week for as long as I am able! -MakeherMark

On a windy but dry day in October, I walked my final steps of the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) 500 Challenge, joining the growing ranks of hikers attempting this goal. The journey toward completion involved many hours pouring over maps and monitoring weather, trail, and road conditions – 2018 has been a challenging year of weather extremes in Virginia. The beauty of this challenge is there is no time period for completing this network of 512.4 miles of trails. However, take warning, once committed to the idea it becomes an obsession, albeit a rewarding one! Prior to deciding in the fall of 2017 to undertake the challenge, I had done some hiking in the SNP. Having kept track of these hikes, I had the instant gratification of checking them off the SNP-500 spreadsheet. 

I decided to undertake this adventure after learning about it from two fellow hikers who completed it in 2017. I was not alone in this decision. One friend completed it earlier this year, one will be completing it this weekend and another in on our heels. Since then two other friends have jumped on board, it seems to be contagious!
For me the shared moments on the trail with friends have been invaluable. We hiked together through rain, sleet, snow, mud, streams, blow-downs, heat, and humidity. We marveled at a bobcat, owl, bears, deer, turkeys, snakes, newts, dewy spider webs, wildflowers, rime ice, and waterfalls. We witnessed remnants of past human lives – fireplaces, rock walls, President Hoover’s Camp, and a decaying Model A Ford. We lent each other encouragement when crawling across logs high above streams, advice on navigating through rock crevices and over rock scrambles and we worked together when crossing unusually high streams. Carpooling and shuttling made this experience more manageable, too. 
The 500 miles (which is actually 512.4 miles) refers to having hiked every trail in the park. By most accounts, it takes a minimum of 700 miles to cover all trail sections. A number of hikes require retracing miles or hiking sections previously completed to get additional trails. There are many ways to accomplish this challenge. Living close to the southern and central sections of SNP made it possible for me to be a day hiker. Twice, friends and I stayed in a hotel in Front Royal so we could do multiple day hikes in the northern section and once we stayed in a cabin in Skyland Resort. However, there are several campsites, cabins, and lodges in the park and backcountry camping permits are available.  

Now here’s how to get started! First, join the Shenandoah Park Hikers Facebook page. Go to the “files” section of this site and you will find the Shen 500 Spreadsheet that you can download to keep track of your progress. Being a visual person, I also purchased the National Geographic Shenandoah National Park Map and used a pink highlighter to mark trails as I completed them. Other “must have” items for planning include the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maps #9, #10, #11, and their Appalachian Trail Guide to Shenandoah National Park with Side Trails. There is a fee to enter the SNP so it is beneficial to purchase one of several available passes. Information about the park and passes can be found at the Shenandoah National Park Website

Happy Hiking!